Lee Hall slams Newcastle Council's failure to save the arts

ONE of the leading voices fighting Newcastle’s cultural cuts has criticised council leaders for failing to save arts and libraries.

Lee Hall addresses a meeting at the Assembly Rooms against council library closures
Lee Hall addresses a meeting at the Assembly Rooms against council library closures

ONE of the leading voices fighting Newcastle’s cultural cuts has criticised council leaders for failing to save arts and libraries.

Playwright Lee Hall has said Newcastle Council’s revised £100m cuts package does not go far enough in attempts to offset the budget blow facing organisations across the city.

Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes last week confirmed a three-year budget after a lengthy consultation in which more than 50,000 people had their say.

Two out of 10 closure-threatened libraries will be saved, with another three likely to be taken over by community groups.

The City Hall music venue avoided the axe and a £600,000-a-year arts fund was created to reverse a planned 100% cut to cultural venues. The fund will represent just over 50% of the current amount handed to the arts.

Billy Elliot writer Mr Hall though said that for a council to produce such cuts while still spending more than £400m redeveloping the city centre was “scandalous”.

He added: “Speaking as someone who personally supports the arts in Newcastle and beyond, the proposal to cut funding by over £600,000 makes it incredibly difficult for those organisations to raise money from patrons or sponsors.

“It instantly wipes out all the money they currently raise many times over, but crucially deprives them of the resources they need to employ people to do this work. Contrary to Nick Forbes’ statements this is a huge sign that the council do not value or understand the importance of the cultural sector either economically or politically. This is a massive blow to the arts in Newcastle. It is no victory and will have a huge impact costing the organisations millions of pounds of knock-on effects.”

Mr Hall was speaking after more than a 1,000 people marched from the Centre for Life to the Monument on Saturday banging drums and waving banners against cuts to libraries, swimming pools, play services and the threat of 1,300 council job losses.

The Save Our Services protest saw families and campaigners unit against closure plans for the City Pool and Turkish Baths, five city libraries and play services.

Mr Hall went on to challenge the true cuts figure facing the city. Newcastle’s £100m cuts package is a mixture of Government grant cuts and rising cost pressures in a roughly 50/50 mix.

But, Mr Hall said, the reduction in funding is then nowhere near as bad as the council has claimed.

He said: “The consultation document clearly explains that at worst the council are facing a 12% shortfall per year. This is a straightforward attempt to mislead the people of Newcastle. The whole consultation process has bankrupted local politics.”

He added: “And all of this needs to be seen in the context of the £418m the council are spending on property development in the private sector. The city will be in debt for generations to pay for this.

“The big picture is very stark: hundreds of millions of public money is going to be spent in the private sector when things like libraries and museums are being closed down or forced to be run for free by volunteers.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer